What to Do with Guilt?
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:18–32).
One of the many evidences that guilt is an objective reality is the system of laws and punishments we find in every society, whether in the oral codes found in remote, illiterate tribes or the highly systematized jurisprudence found in the modern world.
Breaking the laws of men is no small matter; some type of punitive measure is usually applied whenever we transgress the civil law. Consequences are often economic, such as when a person is ordered to pay certain punitive damages to the victim. Or, a person may be sent to prison. Interestingly, even this sentence is often viewed in fiduciary terms, as a released criminal is often said to have “paid his debt to society.”
Of course, we must be chiefly concerned with obeying the law of God. Violations of His commands are also discussed in economic terms in Scripture. For example, redeem and redemption presuppose that we owe a debt to someone — the Lord — that must be paid. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus speaks of debts and debtors in the petition asking God to forgive our debts, or the guilt we have incurred for violating His stipulations (Matt. 6:12). We owe absolute obedience to the Almighty’s law and are debtors to Him when we transgress His plainly revealed commands (Rom. 1:32).
Some may object that they do not know God’s law and therefore should not be held liable for transgressing it. However, as today’s passage teaches, no person lacks access to the Lord’s standards. Not every person owns a Bible, but all of us can look at creation and know that we have not shown gratitude to the holy God who has made everything (Rom. 1:18–32). We are all endowed with a conscience, a sense of right and wrong. Even non-Christian philosophers have recognized this; Immanuel Kant said we all have a sense of “oughtness,” an inkling that we have a moral duty that ought to be fulfilled.
Sinful men will do all they can to assuage their guilt for not living up to this God-given sense of duty. But justifying sin or making light of it does not remove the objective reality of our guilt. Therefore, “What do I do with my guilt before the perfect law of God?” is the most important question each of us will ever ask.
Unfortunately, the church too often follows the culture in lowering God’s standards. Many professing Christians in dating relationships accept any display of physical affection short of intercourse as lawful. Some lower the bar regarding marriage, thinking it is okay to pursue divorce based on irreconcilable differences. Some cheat on their taxes because “the government is unjust.” Do you live by the Lord’s perfect standards or have you lowered the bar of obedience?
Passages for Further Study
- Lev. 19:1–2
- Ps. 19
- Matt. 5:21–30, 48
- Rom. 2:12–29